Education is constantly evolving and being reformed. Over the centuries, as the world has changed, so has the focus of childhood education. Today, early childhood education is aimed at introducing key subjects and core concepts that will be developed later in the child’s educational career but there is always debate about which educational methods are the best. Keep reading to learn about some of the top current trends in elementary school education.
Trend #1: Promoting Inquiry-Based Learning to Develop a Love for Science
No matter where you send your child to school, you are probably familiar with STEM education. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and is it an active style of education that focuses particularly on creating a student-centered learning environment. As part of STEM education, students engage in hands-on activities that use and develop their skills for questioning, problem-solving, and teamwork all the while addressing relevant real-life issues. In a STEM educational environment, teachers fill the role of a classroom facilitator – they act as a guide to students, helping them through the problem-solving process and creating lessons and projects that guide students toward proficiency in the content of the curriculum. The goal of STEM education is to develop students into becoming effective communicators and logical thinkers – they should also be proficient and literate in science, mathematics, and technology.
This video explains inquiry-based learning.
There is a great deal of research to support the benefits of STEM education, but there are some challenges to face as well. Some research shows that while some students who are introduced to STEM during their high school years stick with it throughout college and into their careers, for many other students it is simply too late by that time. Research also shows that by the time they reach fourth grade, about 1/3 of students have already lost interest in the sciences. Furthermore, by eighth grade, more than 50% of students have lost interest or have deemed science irrelevant to their future education and career plans. If this research is to be trusted, it would seem that an earlier emphasis on STEM in the elementary school years may be beneficial in creating a lifelong love for STEM subjects.
Trend #2: Project-Based Learning (PBL) and Common Core Standards
By now, most states have adopted Common Core State Standards to help students achieve a higher level of learning with the goal of preparing them better for college and for a career. One of the most important aspects of Common Core State Standards is an emphasis on project-based learning or PBL. This type of learning is not only helping students to meet Common Core standards, but it prepares the student for deeper thinking which will help to improve their performance in all aspects of their education as well as their future careers.
Not only does PBL align well with Common Core standards, but it also works well with the Next Generation Science Standards that have already been adopted by more than 18 states, as of December 2016. More than 40 states have shown interest in adopting these standards and Project-Based Learning is an important tool for implementation. Here is an overview of what students are supposed to be able to do as part of the new Next Generation Science Standards:
- Ask questions (science) and define problems (engineering)
- Develop and use models
- Plan and carry out investigations
- Analyze and interpret data
- Use mathematics and computational thinking
- Construct explanations (science) and design solutions (engineering)
- Engage in an argument from evidence
- Obtain, evaluate, and communicate information
The goal of these new standards is to shift the focus of science education from simply acquiring knowledge of curriculum content to actually practicing science skills.
Trend #3: Hands-On Teaching for Concrete Learning
Studies have shown that when students are more actively engaged in their education, they tend to learn better and retain more of what they have learned. Hands-on education takes many forms and can be used in a variety of fields, but it is most beneficial for STEM education. This style of learning encourages students to explore new ideas which not only increases competency in STEM subjects but also build the student’s confidence. Though much of the learning is facilitated by the students themselves, teachers play an important role in creating a learning environment that is actually conducive to learning. It is the teacher’s job to act as a guide for students – they develop the projects and curriculum that will create a learning environment while the students themselves engage in the activities and projects that support their education.
Trend #4: Collaborative or Cooperative Learning
One of the current trends in elementary education involves cooperative learning as an alternative teaching strategy. Cooperative learning involves dividing students into small groups and using a variety of educational activities to improve mastery over a certain subject. Not only are students responsible for their own learning, but they are also expected to help others in the group to learn – this creates an overarching atmosphere of educational achievement. In cooperative learning environments, students work closely with one another and the group environment allows them to share their strengths with the group while also receiving support in their areas of weakness – they also develop interpersonal skills and learn how to deal with conflict. There are five key components in a successful cooperative learning environment:
- Positive interdependence
- Face-to-face interaction
- Individual and group accountability
- Interpersonal and small group skills
- Group processing
Research shows that cooperative learning produces very positive results including a deeper understanding of the content and improved grades as well as higher motivation and improved self-esteem.
This video explains cooperative learning.
Trend #5: Holistic Approaches to Learning
When it comes to the quality of education, not all elementary schools are equal. In many cases, the quality of your child’s education is dictated by where you live. Tragic as it may be, some students simply receive a better education than others because they happen to live in a better school district. There is always work to be done in equalizing educational opportunities for all students, but there are many challenges to overcome. For example, students from low-income households have fewer opportunities for quality education and, even if they live in a good school district, problems with their home lives can sometimes become a barrier. One of the most recent trends in education that aims to solve this problem is an advance toward a more holistic style of learning.
In California, therapeutic schools are becoming more and more popular. These schools aim to help low-income children make academic progress while also improving their personal and home lives. There are even blended schools that offer social services such as healthcare in addition to regular education. Head of the Primary School project in Palo Alto, Dr. Priscilla Chan states, “The effects of trauma and chronic stress create an invisible burden for children” that makes it hard for them to live healthy lives and to achieve their full academic potential. Therapeutic schools offer support as well as education to help students rise above their negative situations, both personally and academically.
Though these top five trends provide insight into the current state of elementary school education in the United States, things are always changing. As more research is conducted, school curriculums and academic standards will change – that is simply the way of the world.
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